Most of us believe that self-denial for a season is good for our soul. It reassures us that we are not locked into self-satisfaction and it encourages us to aspire to higher values.
But committing to self-denial for the 40 days of Lent needs a determined mindset and a calling to something higher.
Getting up at 6.00am daily through the season of Lent to pray and walk round our neighbourhood was my husband’s calling, not mine. However, I found I could not stay at home under the comfort of the duvet while he set off into the frosty dawn. I knew the experience would be significant for him and I didn’t want to miss out. So I joined him.
Ours is a middle class neighbourhood with 49 streets set out in three regions. Our church congregation meets in the primary school building right in the middle. Generally people here lead independent and self sufficient lives. Everything appears peaceful in the dawn light. And yet we know that behind the locked doors, the shadow side of these traits is loneliness and vulnerability.
Each morning we started by reading scripture then asking God to guide our eyes, ears, thoughts and prayers as we walked. Philip Yancey, when he prays for others, asks God to open his eyes to see that person as God sees them, and then to enter into the stream of love that God already directs toward them.
To give our prayers a framework we used the Caleb Prayer written by Roy Godwin at Ffald-y-Brenin in Wales. His book, The Grace Outpouring – Blessing others through prayer tells his amazing story of God working in sovereign power on people who weren’t even sure he existed.
O High King of heaven
Have mercy on our Land.
Revive your Church;
Send the Holy Spirit for the sake of the children.
May your kingdom come to our nation.
In Jesus’ mighty name. Amen
Day by day the scene around us changed. The frost lifted and splashes of colour appeared everywhere; daffodils, magnolia, cherry blossom. Almost overnight the trees became green. It felt humbling and inspiring to witness the power and glory of Spring unfolding around us.
And so we arrive at Easter Day – the day when everything changed. Our 40 days of prayer walking is over. It has been a journey of sacrifice and discovery for us. We look to see what God is doing in our community and what role we can play in bringing others to awareness of what can happen when Jesus makes his home in us.
If you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, you are not just believing an odd fact from two thousand years ago; you are trusting that there is a kind of life, a kind of love and trust and joy that is the very essence of Jesus’ identity which is now coming to life in you. . . . Jesus rises from the dead so as to find not only his home in heaven but his home in us. (Rowan Williams Choose Life p122)